IndieWebCamp: Domain of One’s Own Meetup

This past Tuesday I attended the second Indie WebCamp generously hosted by Chris Aldrich focused on Domain of One’s Own. The format is a more focused 10-15 minute talk around a specific technology, in this meeting Tim gave folks a walk-though of Reclaim Cloud, and then opens up to the 21 attendees for anyone to share something they are working on. Tim shared the Cloud, and not only was I thrilled to see Jon Udell in attendance, but it’s always nice when one of your tech heroes tweets some love for your new project. Even better when you know they’re not one to offer empty interest and/or praise. Thanks Jon!

It was also very cool to read Will Monroe write-up of the session, and like him I found it a “very friendly group” and I realized while attending that this kind of low-key chatting and sharing is one of the things I have missed these days. Folks like Will who want to explore what’s possible in their classroom with Domains and beyond is a big part of what I miss about the day-to-day work of an edtech in an institution. And while I’m not necessarily chomping at the bit jump back into that game given the current circumstances, the ability to share and chat with folks who are interested in Domains is always a welcome opportunity.

During the sharing portion of the meetup Jean Macdonald, community manager at mico.blog, turned me on to the Sunlit project while I was bemoaning the dearth of open source alternatives to photo sharing apps like Instagram. Soon after I finally took the leap and signed up for a mico.blog to explore that platform. That platform has been a indieweb cornerstone for many folks I respect like John Johnston, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Dan Cohen to name just a few. So I wrote my first post:

What was even cooler was the fact that while writing this post I logged back into micro.blog and discovered a few folks had welcomed me to the micro.blog community, including Jean Macdonald and Dan Cohen—that makes all the difference.

I’m sold, so the IndieWeb meetup was a total win for me, and I look forward to the one next month. I am going to start getting serious about headless WordPress development for my new website at jimgroom.net, inspired by Tom Woodward’s talk for #HeyPresstoConf20

So, I’ll have something to share in my journey to learn WordPress headless, which will mean learning javascript, CSS, and some other insanity I am not entirely ready for. I have to give a special thanks to Chris Aldrich for putting this together and working to create a space to talk Domain of One’s Own within the IndieWeb community, and I know Greg McVerry has been pushing hard on this for a while now as well, so it is very much appreciated!

Reclaim’s Daydream Nation

Spirit desire.
– “Teenage Riot,” Daydream Nation

Last week we christened yet another host node server at Reclaim Hosting (Fugazi filled up quick!), this one was named after NYC’s indie rock pioneers Sonic Youth. It was interesting timing because the first school we got setup was NYU—their Library will be running a pilot web hosting service for their community through Reclaim. Last week was also when Audrey Watters released the aspirational Kraken that was her post on Indie Ed-Tech. It’s a brilliant follow-up on her year-end post about the Indie Web in 2014. I read the post several times while listening to Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation (I recommend the experience), and what struck me is the strong, brilliant chorus of aspiration—a desire to challenge what’s peddled in the pedant realm of the possible, a bending of the very genre of what ed-tech is, was, and can be. And no one sees that spirit of desire more clearly; articulates what we can’t hear more soundly; or sings the story of our field better. #NOBODY!!!

…indie ed-tech underscores the importance of students and scholars alike controlling their intellectual labor and their data; it questions the need for VC-funded, proprietary tools that silo and exploit users; it challenges the centrality of the LMS in all ed-tech discussions and the notion that there can be one massive (expensive) school-wide system to rule them all; it encourages new forms of open, networked learning that go beyond the syllabus, beyond the campus. It’s not only a different sort of infrastructure, it’s a different sort of philosophy than one sees promoted by Silicon Valley – by the ed-tech industry or the (ed-)tech press.

We may fall, but not with giving those bastards everything we got!!!

It’s an anthem in a vacuum on a hyperstation
Daydreaming days in a daydream nation

“The Internet is the most basic form of the punk rock revolution”

smallisbeautiful1973I highly recommend this interview from back in 2008 that [[Ian Svenonius]] conducts with Calvin Johnson of [[K Records]], [[Beat Happening]], [[Halo Benders]], and [[Dub Narcotic Sound System]] and more. The discussion starts with Johnson talking about how the work he has done with independent labels was inspired by E.F. Schumacher‘s book Small is Beautiful which posits the idea of Appropriate Technology:

…it is generally recognized as encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale,decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled.[1]

K Records was made possible in part by the viability of the cassette tape as a cheaper, more intimate technology in the early 80s, an approach Johnson traces to this idea of appropriate technology. Trying to produce and record an album of a bunch of friends making music that maybe 30 or 40 other people was next to impossible with vinyl. To make an album, Johnson explains, you needed to press at least 1000 records for the production process to make economical sense. But that also assumes you could sell 1000 records—it becomes to assume mass. But cassettes make recording for just a handful of people not only possible, but extremely affordable. What’s more, it becomes a much more localized, independent, and decentralized process. He then goes on to suggest that K Records was also inspired by Smithsonian’s Folk Ways Records label. Rather than focusing on public relations and promotion, they focused on documenting and sharing the creative process—a deliberate choice that belies an ethos and an aesthetic.

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When asked if he sees himself as the leader of the International Pop Underground, he answers there is no leader, rather it’s a decentralized, amorphous, amoeba-like entity. Then moves on to an inspired riff (9:21) about drawing from one of the most “radical and forward-thinking” artist of the 20th century: Charles Schulz. He cites the world of Peanuts as a true underground that’s lived in and created by the kids, a world that adults have no place or authority. But goes on to add a true underground is still within the real world and can’t escape its problems. And this is why, he continues, it must always re-invent itself to deal with those issues. Ending the whole bit with, “the best thing about creative work is that there is no hierarchy.” Amen.

Towards the very end of the interview (26:10) Svenonious wonders, given how arduous the production process is for capturing music,”Why don’t people just sing to one another?” A off-handed remark that Johnson turns into a brilliant moment in which he posits: “That’s what the internet is.” By sidestepping the whole production process they’re singing directly to one another while making it available instantly all around the world. A technological development that he sees as “the most basic form of the punk rock revolution.”

What an awesome interview, and damn Calvin Johnson is smart. So much to think about.

Indie Web Domains

Tomorrow Tim Owens and I will be talking with a group of faculty at Davidson College about their Davidson Domains initiative. Over dinner we were talking about how we could provide a broader context for the work we are doing beyond a specific Domain of One’s Own initiative. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good domain project. Schools like Emory, Oklahoma, and Channel Islands are showing the way. But I think it’s dangerous to suggest this is happening in a vacuum. And that’s probably why I’m digging the Indie Web movement, it provides a broader view of the cultural moment we find ourselves in, and why a Domain of One’s Own project might be relevant for all kinds of reasons—but also how it’s not any one thing either. I keep thinking a domains project needs to move well beyond UMW for it to be a success, but each one also needs to be its own.

What if we thought about universities doing domains projects, kinda like indie labels promoting unknown bands and a seeding a local scene. Domains could provide an infrastructure of support and promotion for the faculty, students, clubs, groups, projects, etc. that is all done in their own space. Reinforcing a DIY ethic inherited from punk. What if each school was known by the variety of it’s different approaches, ideas, and visions for what the independent web means.

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Which ultimately led me to thinking about Superchunk, a mainstay indie rock band that just so happens to be a home team favorite given I’m currently writing this from North Carolina. One of my favorite albums of the 1990s, Foolish, was Superchunk’s first full LP release on their own label Merge Records.

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Merge is a label that over the past 25 years became a cultural resource that supported a wide range of bands not only locally, but from around the globe. Most recently Canada’s immensely popular Arcade Fire had a number 1 selling album on Merge. The cross-over in terms of what a platform like domains could do to promote a culture of critical thought, aesthetics, and empowerment is really enticing. An indie label suggests a certain amount of freedom from commercialization. It also highlights artist’s keeping control over their work, along with a sense of purpose beyond the major labels’ predominant logic of success driven by sales.

With the indie web—which probably finds its best representative in IndieWebCamp—much of what is highlighted is a people-focused alternative to the ubiquitous corporate web.

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And you’ll notice how much the focus is on retaining your content, getting better connected, and taking control. A web that promotes a network of independent sites that each devise a vision and aesthetic that riffs upon a broader community, yet retains it’s sense of uniqueness seems a lot like a thriving indie scene, right? There would be no better place for something like that than a series of loosely connected, yet independent and self-determined university communities who want to cultivate a web of creative agency. Is it a coincidence Superchunk and Merge Records came out of the Raleigh-Durham area?

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All this to say, the indie web provides a necessary frame for the why of domain of one’s own. The crucial piece is how you imagine what you are brining to campus. Is it just another system? Just another space to publish? Or is it a concerted movement to try and highlight, promote, and share the variegated work colleges and universities do as a community. Forging a sense of community is the hardest part of anything like this, but the key is we aren’t working in isolation. People are thinking about the importance of owning their work, publishing on their own site and syndicating elsewhere, maintaining the canonical URLs of their thoughts, images, videos, bookmarks, etc. and recognizing, to quote Ben Werdmuller, that the web is made up of people not services, and its time we start recognizing and celebrating that fact. And what better way than with a domain?